Shakira-Whenever Wherever(up 6 positions)
I don't totally understand why Whenever Wherever, from the Colombian soap opera and singing star's Laundry Service CD, has become a big hit in the U.S. Is it because of MTV's steady play of the cheesy video showing Shakira emerging from the sea then writhing seductively in various geographic settings? Is it the harbinger of the next wave of crossovers as Latin radio's audience grows ever larger? With a repetitive beat and Shakira's theatrical, slightly hysterical voice, Whenever Wherever has some of the broad, fakey sound that turns me off a lot of mainstream Latin pop. It also does have the genre's big, loose charm and a flute sound that supplies an exotic touch. Whenever Wherever doesn't take itself too seriously. The lyrics about being willing to travel the globe to keep a relationship with a distant lover include the line: "lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don't confuse them with mountains."
Tantric-Mourning(up 8 positions)
Mourning is the third chart hit from the debut CD by the musicians who have recaptured success after getting kicked out of Days Of The New while Travis Meeks' second version of Days Of The New has sunk without a trace. It's a shame that Tantric's tale of resurrection isn't accompanied by better music. Tantric seem like decent musicians but they're making very standard angry rock. Hugo Ferreira, the singer the ex-Days picked, is just another intense, deep sub-Vedder voice. The lyric starts by claiming he's learned about himself and can deal with another woman hurting him but soon accuses her for "all the lies" and how she "conned me into thinking that all I had was you."
His new CD is called Cocky but Kid Rock seems defensive on Forever. Perhaps knowing that his rhymes are pretty stupid, Kid Rock anticipated criticism, warning "do not hate or question the music I make." He brags "I ain't changed nothing" but that's part of the problem with Forever. It's a retread of his previous work with little new inspiration. He's bragged before about his skills at mixing rock and hip hop and how he's "got money like Fort Knox." Still, while Kid Rock will never recapture his Devil Without A Cause/Bawitdaba success, there will always be some attracted to a proudly white trashy guy who confidently does old school rhymes. And there is a simple appeal to Forever's basic beat and grinding guitar line.
Nelly Furtado-Turn Off The Light(unchanged)
On her second single from the Whoa, Nelly CD, the Portugese-Canadian singer is again a cool, refreshing presence on pop radio. Turn Off The Light has an even looser feel than I'm Like A Bird. Furtado's vocal is easy and appealing. Turn Off The Light has a trippy feel with ringing synths and record scratching but it also has good, tight beats. On Turn Off The Light, Furtado says she acting tough after a breakup but when she's on her own at night she's troubled and lonely.
The Offspring-Defy You(up 14 positions)
Defy You, from the soundtrack of the movie Orange County, is in the slower, more standard rock vein of Offspring hits like Self Esteem and Gone Away. One of the problems when The Offspring slow down from their standard post punk pace is that it's easier to understand their lyrics. Defy You's message is typically simplistic, trying to rally the kids by vowing to overcome a society that tries to "push me around." Dexter Holland vows "you cannot stop us, you cannot bring us down." While Defy You is obvious and very basic it does pack the simple thrills of a classic hard rocker. The Offspring slowly grind through with a good, big beat and solid bass line. Holland's yell and Noodles' crunching chords on the chorus have a primal rock and roll power.
After seven months, Schism has finally ended its chart run, only to be replaced by the title track from Tool's Lateralus CD. Lateralus is a similarly angry, sprawling work. I don't find Lateralus as striking as Schism. Lateralus is typical of Tool's work as it combines art rock and heavy metal. Lateralus methodically moves forward, starting with percussive atmosphere and building into a harder sound with crunching power chords. Maynard James Keenan's howls with a great sense of meaning. But Lateralus does have good intensity and texture and Lateralus' lyrics are actually kind of hopeful. Keenan castigates himself for missing opportunities by ignoring his intuition and overthinking and overanalyzing. He urges himself to "cross the line" and look to life's "infinite possibilities."
Destiny's Child-Emotion(up 2 positions)
If you've seen Destiny's Child on an awards or benefit show, you've probably seen them doing a good, short a capella thing. The message is clear: we're not just a studio creation, we can really sing. Emotion, the third single from the Survivor CD, is a similar display of the ladies' vocal talents. The backing is minimal, mostly from an acoustic guitar and a very simple beat. The singing stands up well on its own and is mostly not overly showy . The harmonies are smooth, tight and good. The thing about Destiny's Child's version is that it's so polite and sedate that it's not much more than a vocal exercise. The Bee Gees' crazy high pitched intensity gave the original undeniable drama. It also fit better with the song's emotional lyrics, with their lines about being "caught up in sorrow" and crying "me a river", about how "heartache lives on inside" since a breakup.
Usher-U Got It Bad(up 6 positions)
Like U Remind Me, the first hit from Usher's 8701 CD, U Got It Bad is competent, familiar easy R&B. Producer Jermaine Dupri gives U Got It Bad a smooth, unexciting sound with a steady, restrained beat and tasteful touches of guitar. Usher Raymond has a presence that's helped him find success in music and movies but his voice, while pleasant, is unremarkable and certainly not among the best of the sensitive male ladykillers who have topped the charts over the years. On U Got It Bad Usher assures people who love obsessively that he's one of them and their behavior is fine.
Blink 182-Stay Together For The Kids(down 1 position)
Blink 182 have easily shown a juvenile mentality on their stupider songs but they also are able to depict youthful inner turmoil in a real seeming, unshowy way. Stay Together For The Kids, from the Take Off Your Pants and Jacket CD, is even more basic than Enema Of The Stateís Adamís Song as it simply illustrates the effect of a coupleís troubled relations on their kid. The different personalities of Blinkís frontmen nicely illustrate the sides of the troubled kidís mind. Mark Hoppus sincerely croons the verses and Tom DeLonge angrily yells the chorus. Stay Together For The Kids is similar to other Blink songs. Like on all their singles, they take an instrumental break to build the intensity before doing the verse one last time. But the band create a moving grandeur by slowing things down and building emotion as DeLongeís guitar and Travis Barkerís drums gain in power.
Alien Art Farm-Smooth Criminal(down 28 positions)
The second chart hit from the Anthology CD, is fairly ingenious. They take advantage of the familiarity of the song from Michael Jackson's Bad. Dryden Mitchell even mimics Jackson's whoops and other vocal tics. To appeal to rock fans, Alien Ant Farm took a song that was catchy and edgy to start with and beefed it up. Terry Corso is particularly impressive, using the original's riff for a hard, compact guitar line. Jackson's paranoia is a natural fit with the misogyny of much contemporary rock. Smooth Criminal is a quite nasty story of a guy who comes in the window of a woman's apartment and strikes her down, leaving "blood stains on the carpet" and the woman near death. Alien Art Farm's Smooth Criminal grabs you with its striking, dark momentum and tight music but the harsh rock setting makes the unpleasantness of the song even clearer.
Alicia Keys' Songs In A Minor is probably the most remarkable success story of 2001. Keys' only previous credits were a couple soundtrack songs and a little backup work but her CD debuted at number one and has been near the top of the charts ever since. Fallin' is striking on first listen and goes a long way in explaining the CD's success. Unlike the overproduced work of other female pop singers, Fallin' shows the confidence to let Keys' singing stand on its own and her strong, sexy voice is up to the task. Fallin' has a good, minimal production. Strong backing vocals and Keys' piano playing create a classic, soulful sound. There isn't much to the lyric, about the confusion of a relationship that brings lots of pleasure and pain, but its simplicity fits the song's stylish, retro feel.
Train-Something More(down 10 positions)
It's easy to write off Train as a boring, if tuneful, yuppie band but they sometimes do fairly interesting things withing a pop context. Something More resembles late period psychedelic Beatles or, more accurately, the hundreds of songs other bands have modeled on later Beatles music. As the strings get bigger and the song just repeats itself, Train's easy listening tendencies become more obvious. Still, Something More, from the Drops Of Jupiter CD, is tuneful and it gets a decent edge from an unrushed pace and a good, dense texture with a thick bass line. On Something More, Pat Monahan is depressed and ready to move on from a relationship with a woman who's never satisfied.
N Sync-Gone(down 1 position)
N Sync risked alienating a large number of their fans with Pop, the title track and first single from their new CD, and its cold, harsh sub-Michael Jackson sound, paranoid boasts and ridiculous challenge to critics who don't respect them. The second single plays it safe, letting heartthrob Justin Timberlake pour his heart out about his pain and longing for a lost love while the rest of the boys harmonize behind him. The vocals are nicely restrained and quite good. The music, acoustic guitars and strings, is so tastefully minimal that it's a little boring.
No Doubt-Hey Babybuy it!
I find Hey Baby, from the Rock Steady CD, really annoying but it does show that No Doubt still have the ability to make music destined for the top of the charts they had on the Tragic Kingdom CD but seemed to lose on Return Of Saturn. Hey Baby sounds like a pop hit. It's simple, catchy and easy to sing along with. On Hey Baby, No Doubt return to the combination of ska and commercial pop they used at the start of their career. With a bouncy keyboard skank and Bounty Killer's good natured toasting, Hey Baby uses some of ska's more appealing aspects. Still, Hey Baby's gimmicky sound bugged me on first listen and I can only imagine how irritating it will seem by the end of its chart run. From Gwen Stefani's cutesy vocal to the video game style beeping sound effects, I dislike all of Hey Baby's shiny perkiness. Hey Baby casts Stefani as an observer of boys and girls and their "flirty ways."
On Last Time, Fuel are in a harder rocking mode than on the three previous chart hits from their Something Like Human CD. Last Time has a tougher rock guitar and Carl Bell angrily yells the lyrics with great intensity. Still, Last Time has the slick, superficial, calculated feel of the other songs from Something Like Human. Bell promises in Last Time's pretentious lyrics that he will soon leave an addictive, controlling woman.
John Mellancamp-Peaceful World(unchanged)
More than two decades into his career, John Mellancamp mostly works in adult contemporary mode but he still has an uncanny knack of making appealing singles. As on his good cover of Wild Night, Mellancamp works with a distinctive African American singer and produces a very likable result. Mellancamp is sometimes stupidly self righteous, pretentiously speaking lines decrying hypocrites and saying he's "sick and tired of being politically correct" but India.Arie's vocals provide a nice balance. They're serious but warm and unaffected and right for the song's utopian message. The music on Peaceful World, from Mellancamp's Cuttin Heads CD is also good, with a loose, edgy beat.
Ryan Adams-New York, New York(unchanged)
New York, New York is from Gold, the former Whiskeytown frontman's second solo record. Adams' music continues to evolve from alt country to more mainstream rock. New York, New York shows the different sides of Adams' sound. His loose, rapid fire delivery evokes a Dylan song like Tangled Up In Blue but New York, New York also resembles songs by The Allman Brothers and Billy Joel. New York, New York has gotten attention because of its eerie video, filmed September 7th, showing Adams singing in front of a view of New York's downtown skyline with the Twin Towers in the center of the shot. But New York, New York also deserves attention because it's a darn good song. It has a great, fun feel with buoyant guitar and keyboards. Adams' flood of words is very charming. On New York, New York, Adams pays tribute to his adopted home but decides that, since his memories of the city are so intertwined with those of the love that broke his heart, it's time to go.
Jennifer Lopez-I'm Real(unchanged)
Even with a synth riff that reminds me of The Hustle, the third hit from the J.Lo CD is effective dance pop. I'm Real has good rhythm and is less mechanical sounding than Lopez' last single Play. Lopez' voice is pleasant but bland and basically overwhelmed by the beats. The lyrics to I'm Real are fairly vapid. Lopez declares her realness uninterestingly, telling her man not to feel insecure or worry about what she's doing when she's not with him. MTV and some radio stations are now playing a "remix" of I'm Real, basically a new song with almost totally different lyrics and music. The new version, a duet with Ja Rule, was written by Ja Rule and appears on his Pain Is Love CD. It actually has a real feel that's been missing from Lopez' heavily produced music with a clear, relaxed sound of minimal synths and a good, basic beat, The lyrics are also more relaxed. They're riffs off the original that include the publicity grabbing request for "niggas" to "mind they biz."
Enya-Only Time(down 30 positions)
Besides providing vaguely mystical sounding background music for commercials, soothing is what Enya's ultra-lite music does best. So it's not surprising that some have found that in a troubled time Only Time, from Enya's A Day Without Rain CD, has therapeutic qualities. Rather than being about time healing, Only Time's message is that the future is unpredictable so there's no point worrying about it. Only Time is potentially sleep inducing elevator music but it's also a striking, delicately gauzy example of Enya's usual ethereal formula of filtered voices, layered keyboards and polite, programmed beat.
Praise, from Sevendust's Animosity CD, is a fairly good model of dark hard rock. With harsh, rumbling guitars, it captures the threatening tone the band presumably seeks. Lajon Witherspoon is one of the best singers in hard rock and he has the appropriate agitated wail and doesn't go too far over the top. Still, Praise is pretty unpleasant stuff. Its anger and unnerving sound will keep it from having an audience beyond troubled male teens. Praise's lyrics have the paranoia and anger central to much recent hard rock. Witherspoon sings of an unnamed someone whose "hate for me is strong" and is "oblivious to all of my cries."
Toya-I Do(up 2 positions)
I Do, from the St. Louis singer's debut Toya CD, is fairly standard dance pop with a familiar story of a woman trying to entice "a six foot stallion with the story of a thug" that she sees on the dance floor. I Do isn't ground breaking but it does have a pretty interesting, steady sound with chiming effects and a minimal, percussive beat.
Sum 41-In Too Deep(down 1 position)
Sum 41 continue to follow Blink 182's bratty but lovable punk popster formula. On In Too Deep, the second hit from the young Canadians' All Killer, No Filler CD, Sum 41 use the same basic guitar riff as they did on Fat Lip. At least this time they don't rap. In Too Deep is very simple but likable. The guitar sound is big and tight. There's nothing original or particularly smart about In Too Deep. But even more than Fat Lip, which vaguely wanted to be a youth rebellion anthem, In Too Deep has a lack of pretension and youthful good spirits that are hard to resist. In Too Deep's lyric seems young as well. It's about a guy overwhelmed by a woman who's never satisfied with their relationship.
The Strokes-Last Nite(up 2 positions)
Quite a bit of hype, largely created by the British music press, surrounded the Strokes before they even had a record out. The hype is mostly justified by Is This It, one of the best CDs of 2001. Fans of late 70s/early 80s new wave are especially likely to enjoy Is This It's deft constructions. Julian Casablancas is appealingly confident as he channels cool alternative crooners like Lou Reed, Ian McCulloch and The Fall's Mark E. Smith while Nick Valersi lays down tight, jagged guitar lines reminiscent of Gang Of Four and, especially, Television's Richard Lloyd. Last Nite is kind of like Iggy Pop singing over Tom Petty's American Girl. With its steady, jaunty strumming and sturdy bass line, Last Nite is a good example of the Strokes' fun, basic sound. Last Nite is about having enough and walking away from a girlfriend who feels "so down" because no one understands her.
Ja Rule-Livin' It Upbuy it!
Livin' It Up, the second hit from the former Jeff Atkins' Pain Is Love CD, is an easy, slight, enjoyable song. The best thing about Livin' It Up is the melody line taken from Stevie Wonder's Do I Do but everything about Livin' It Up gives it a likable flow and a positive feel. Irv Gotti's production, with a simple, steady beat and keyboards repeating the Do I Do hook, keeps things moving enjoyably. As on the second version of Jennifer Lopez' I'm Real, Ja Rule's edgy, throaty voice is nicely contrasted with a sweeter, less dynamic singer as he alternates lines with Case on the chorus. Ja Rule's rap has a typically rough edge but it fits well within pop confines and gives the song a good momentum. On Livin' It Up, Ja Rule notes his suspicion that "ladies just wanna hold the name Ms. Atkins" but tells his woman "I'mma love"and that their relationship "ain't your typical, everyday, one night thing." He also salutes "all my thugs that be living it up."
311-I'll Be Here Awhilebuy it!
The second chart hit from the From Chaos CD has the strengths and limitations of the typical 311 single. On I'll Be Here Awhile, 311 are likable but even more laid back than usual. You'd figure that even 311's biggest fans would be growing a little tired of the sameness of much of the band's music by now but I guess the familiar, comfortable nature of 311's work is part of their charm. With a crisp beat, Nick Hexum's good natured croon, pleasant guitar doodles and a hint of a skanky keyboard, I'll Be Here Awhile has the band's trademark easy ska sound. The lyrics are also somewhat unambitious but genial, promising to be as loyal and steady as ever even when the pace of life is maddening and life seems like an "uncertain game of chance."